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A familiar face back on top at Pebble, and some new ones too

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By Pete Pappas

GolfWRX Staff Writer

No it’s not Tiger Woods atop the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am leader board.  But Tiger is certainly prowling at four-under, and could easily have been closer than the five shots back he is now.

Young phenom and two time tour winner Danny Lee and 40-year old upstart Charlie Wi both finished at nine-under par and tied for first.

Lee’s bogey free round was highlighted by five birdies, and two eagles at No. 2 and No. 11 on the Pebble Beach course.  While Wi established a new course record at the Monterey Peninsula course also with a bogey free round, carding a 61 which included one eagle and seven birdies.

But the two were not at the top without company. Three’s company to be exact.

Charging down the stretch with birdies on No. 14, No. 15, and No. 18, two-time defending champion at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am Dustin Johnson also joined Lee and Wi for a three way share of the lead at days end.

And if it’s true as Shirley Bassey sings in the movie All About Mary, “I’ve seen it before, and I’ll see it again.  It’s all just a little bit of history repeating,” then the 27 year-old American Johnson might just be entering the hallowed grounds of Pebble Beach record book lore, joining Jack Nicklaus, Johhny Miller, and Phil Mickelson, as the only other three-time winners of this event.

Maybe there’ll also be a Camaron Diaz sighting sometime this weekend. Back in 2011 Tiger recruited Diaz to help him get a new girlfriend. No one really knows how that turned out however, or at least no one wants to talk about it. OK, so we probably won’t see Diaz this weekend, at least not anywhere near Tiger.

History is on Johnson’s side if you look at the last two times he won here in 2009 and 2010. In both years, he was the first day leader and played the Pebble Beach course.  Yesterday, he was the first round leader, and played the Pebble Beach course.

I know, I know. It’s just the first day. Probably just meaningless coincidence, right?  Well I wouldn’t bet against him.

Johnson was calm and collected, even spectacular at times, showing resiliency and consistency playing the first six holes at six-under, and the last five holes at three-under. And Johnson was in great spirits after the round, tweeting, “Gotta feel good about that round!!! Love it here and my group was a blast!!”

Johnson always likes playing Pebble Beach, and is always comfortable playing here (don’t we all have an aberrational 82 final round meltdown once or twice in our life?)  The course rewards his tremendous length and accuracy, evidenced by him being tied for second in driving accuracy, and averaging just under 300 yards per drive Thursday.

On top of that Johnson is putting absolutely lights out.  In addition to hitting 13 of 14 fairways, and 14 of 18 greens, he took just 24 putts Thursday (ranking him second in the field).  And some of those putts were legitimate dead eye center rolls.  The only thing that could have made Johnson’s putts better (or worse depending who you ask) would have been Bill Murray’s Cinderella Man screaming “It’s in the hole!”

On No. 6 Johnson held the line on a tricky 30-foot eagle, on No. 15 he snuck in a very slippery putt to maintain his momentum on the backside. And on No. 18 he came inside of one-inch to making a putt from a semi-buried lie in the fringe off the green that would have been his third eagle of the round, but settled for a tap in birdie to close his scoring.

Johnson will be there in contention on Sunday. But you know what?  So will Tiger Woods.

The big story remains, and will remain well beyond this tournament, Tiger Woods.  For better or worse, Tiger has become the most over-analyzed, over-scrutinized, over-examined athlete not just on the PGA Tour, but in any professional sport.

Golf writers from every corner of every office down every hallway continue to talk and whisper about Tiger’s fading mystique, or the mysterious process he and coach Sean Foley often refer to, or about Tiger’s self assurance and confidence (or lack there of) Ad Nauseum.

In doing so however, they’re missing out on some pretty good golf.

On Thursday Tiger hit 12 of 14 fairways, 13 of 18 greens, and had 29 total putts. A dominating performance? Of course not. One to keep you in contention to win on Sunday? Absolutely.

Tiger is going to have to win differently from this moment on.  And a win at Pebble would do more to teach him how he must win as he goes forward, than it will answer those anachronistic questions about the old Tiger aura, or the old Tiger dominance.  Those questions are no longer relevant. There is no Tiger aura, no Tiger dominance. And there will never be a return to  the way it was.

Tiger is no longer untouchable, unflawed. Chinks in his amour have been exposed.

But he still has more skill than any golfer on tour, any given tournament. He still has a mental toughness that will pull him through hard times, though now he will need to pull through by accepting these hard times as defeats where previously he rose above them and turned into victories.

The Tiger we see now is the Tiger we’re going to see for the next ten years. One who shows glimpses of greatness, like his approach on No. 10, and No. 11 to start his round.

But also one who will look out of place, and confused, and make very poor shots that he will not be able to recover from. Like his approach shot into No. 4 where he took an incredible six practice swings, and yet another using just his arm, before sailing the green into a natural dune, and limping out with a bogey five.

Tiger will win again, and win often. But he won’t resemble the Tiger who dominated every Sunday, or whose aura was so mysterious and intimidating that it gave him an absolute and complete advantage even before he stuck his tee in the ground on Sunday afternoon.

Those days are gone. Long gone. But that’s OK. And I think Tiger is beginning to get it.  After the round on Thursday Tiger said, “I wasn’t very good with my irons today.  I left a few shots out there that’s for sure.  And the rest of the guys are going pretty low, tearing this place apart.”

This was no admission of defeat by any stretch. Rather, it was a humble, balanced Tiger maybe for one of the first times in recent memory, being true to himself, being real about what he can and can’t do, and thinking about ways to do other things that will still let him win tournaments.

Perhaps, even as early as this week at Pebble.  And call me a dreamer, but I’m anticipating a Tiger Woods-Duston Johnson pairing on Sunday, the likes of which will be a showdown we have not seen in a long, long time. And ironically, will probably be analyzed, examined, and scrutinized for time and memorial.

And in some respects, when Tiger begins to win again, and he will, these wins might be the most magical of his career. Because he won’t be expected, or able to dominate like he once did.  His aura won’t return like it once was. Any given tournament, he may show glimpses of his old self, just not as often, not as regularly, not for four rounds. But he’ll find a new way to win. And he’ll still be Tiger. And that should be enough more times than not to still be the most talented player in the field. He’ll just be a different Tiger.

In other notable tournament news, Ken Duke, who needed a late season victory last year just to ensure he’d be on the PGA Tour this year, recorded six birdies and an eagle en route to setting the Pebble Beach course record on the back nine, shooting a 28, 8-under par.

Nick Watney remains in the hunt with a seven-under, three off the lead, after making small adjustments to his grip at the advice of his coach, Butch Harmon.  Watney moved to a weaker grip to prevent blocking shots which has been a problem for him this year.

Round 2 coverage resumes tomorrow, Friday at 12:00 p.m. PST 5:30 p.m. PST on the Golf Channel.

Click here for more discussion in the forums.

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Pete is a journalist, commentator, and interviewer covering the PGA Tour, new equipment releases, and the latest golf fashions. Pete's also a radio and television personality who's appeared multiple times on ESPN radio, and Fox Sports All Bets Are Off. And when he's not running down a story, he's at the range working on his game. Above all else, Pete's the proud son of a courageous mom who battled pancreatic cancer much longer than anyone expected. You can follow Pete on twitter @PGAPappas

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Tour Mash: Rahm wins in Dubai, Cook sizzles to victory

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Two more points races reached their end this weekend. The LPGA season culminated in Florida with the Race to the CME Globe, while the European Tour concluded its Race to Dubai in, where else? Dubai! The PGA Tour played its final event until the new year, in Georgia, while the Ladies European Tour played its Sanya Open in China. Before American Thanksgiving revelry and remembrance set in, it’s time for one more tour mash.

LPGA Tour: A day of twos ends in a win for Ariya

Ariya Jutanugarn birdied her final two holes to win the CME Tour Championship. She was given the opportunity to win in regulation when Lexi Thompson pushed a 2-foot putt for par at the last. Although Thompson did not win the year’s final event, she captured 2 titles of her own: Vare Trophy for low scoring average and Race To CME Globe, the season’s points race.

How Ariya Jutanugarn tasted victory

The power game has arrived on the LPGA Tour, in case you missed it. Golfers such as Lexi, Ariya and Sung Hyun Park obliterate the orb, leaving little yardage to the green. When her game is firing, Ariya Jutanugarn is unstoppable. After bogey at the first hole on Sunday, the young golfer from Thailand etched six birdies into the final 17 holes, for a second-consecutive 67. Her birdie at the last came from 23 feet, an amazing putt to hole with victory on the line. Down it went, and up went the smile of a champion.

How the rest came up just shy of a win

With eerie similarity, Lexi Thompson’s card was the flip side of Ariya’s. Thompson made six birdies over her first 17 holes, but the hiccough at the last, her only bogey on the day, dropped her to 14-under par and opened the door for Jutanugarn. Thompson was on absolute fire on Sunday, hitting all 14 fairways and using the putter 28 times. Ariya, Kim Kaufman, Michelle Wie and Suzann Pettersen stood tied atop at 10-under, heading into round 4. Pettersen’s 72, Kaufman’s 71 and Wie’s 70 were simply not enough to keep pace with those coming from behind on Sunday. Ariya, however, was up to the challenge.

European Tour: Rahm wins in Dubai and Fleetwood breathes again

For a time, it seemed as though Justin Rose would win his third consecutive event in Europe and would squeeze past Fleetwood for the season points title. The former Englishman was in the midst of the greatest scoring run of his career, while the later Englishman seemed to have little petrol left in the tank. Then the back nine on Sunday happened, and everything changed.

How Jon Rahm won the DP World Tour

Shane Lowry made 10 birdies on Sunday, but he had one bogey. Rahm had half as many birdies and zero bogeys, and that last number made the difference. The young Basque played a stellar 132 over the closing 36 holes, eclipsed only by Lowry’s 131. Rahm fearlessly navigated his way around the Jumeirah Estates course, eeking out a one-shot win over Lowry and also hard-charging Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

How the others went home trophy-less

We all want to know about Rose. four birdies on the outward 9-holes staked him to a lead, and the greatest season comeback on a major tour was nearly written. With only three bogeys in his first 63 holes, Rose proceeded to bogey 12, 14 and 16, with only a birdie at the last to bring him to 17-under. He ended up two behind Rahm, and in second place in the Race to Dubai points race. It was a glorious campaign for Rose, and cements him as world player to watch in 2018. The Englishman tied for fourth with Sergio Garcia, Dean Burmeister and Dylan Fritelli, both of South Africa, on 17-under par.

PGA Tour: Cook collects First Tour win in Georgia

Fall is a time for young aspirants to make a mark on the PGA Tour. Austin Cook followed the script, birdieing 3-of-his-final-4 holes to stretch a single-shot lead into a four-stroke triumph. J.J. Spaun, a Web.Com tour graduate in 2017, was in the mix for the second consecutive week. He played well down the stretch, and earned a runner-up finish.

How Cook caught fire

Austin Cook played a veteran front-nine, with one bogey and one birdie. None of the chasers caught him, so the Arkansas alum continued to manage his game in the fairways-greens style. On the inward half, Cook took charge, with birdies at 15, 17 and 18, to move well in front of the runner-up. With the precision of a surgeon, Cook took apart the Sea Island course in impressive fashion. After his second-round 62, many expected him to have one weak round on the weekend, but 66-67 showed the his mettle.

How the others flamed out

Spaun really didn’t flame out, not like last week, when he caught the double-bogey train. A proven winner on other tours, Spaun should win in 2018. His game was solid, mixing in more birdies than bogeys, and his second-place finish was well-earned. Brian Gay might have been more comfortable than any other golfer this week, but he was just as erratic. Case in point: back nine. From holes 13 to 18, Gay made one birdie, two eagles, two pars and one double. Still, his numbers were low enough to secure solo third, one stroke behind Spaun and two in front of the fourth-place finishers.

Ladies European Tour: Boutier sizzles on back nine for win

Celine Boutier imagined a top-10 or top-5 when the third day dawned at Yalong Bay, in China. After bogeys on holes 4 and 5, she needed to gather herself in order to preserve her standing. From this day forward, “gather herself” in the dictionary will forever show a picture of Celine Boutier. Her six-birdie finish vaulted her past all challengers, to her first European Tour victory.

How Boutier bloomed

The recent Duke University graduate posted three rounds in the 60s, the only competitor to achieve that distinction at the Sanya Open. The Frenchwoman didn’t make a bogey until the 15th hole of her second round, but she was stuck in neutral from that hole through the 9th hole on Sunday, making only pars and bogeys. Something clicked at the turn, and Boutier regained the confidence that had produced 10 birdies during the tournament’s first half.

How the others gave chase

Solar Lee was in good standing on Sunday’s outward nine. She bounced back from an opening bogey with three birdies through the 9th, and held the top spot on the leader board at 7-under. Lee reached 9-under through 13, but made bogey at 14 to drop to 8-under. Then came the blossoming of Boutier, and Lee had to be satisfied with the runner-up spot. One spot behind Lee was Valdis Thora Jonsdottir, Iceland’s reigning professional golfer, at 7-under.

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Wednesday’s Photos from The 2017 RSM Classic

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GolfWRX is live this week from The 2017 RSM Classic at Sea Island Golf Club — the Seaside course plays as a par 70 measuring 7,005 yards — in St. Simons Island, Georgia.

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Headlined by last week’s OHL Classic champion Patton Kizzire, and 2015 RSM Champion Kevin Kisner, this week’s field is filled with notable names including Ricky Barnes, Zac Blair, Luke Donald, Ernie Els, Harris English, Tommy Gainey, Bill Haas, Beau Hossler, Zach Johnson, Smylie Kaufman, Matt Kuchar, Davis Love III, Graeme McDowell, Ollie Schniederjans, Brandt Snedeker, Hudson Swafford, Bubba Watson and others.

In last year’s RSM Classic, Mackenzie Hughes won in a five-man playoff to secure his first PGA Tour victory. He’s back in the field this year to defend his title.

Check out out photos from Sea Island G.C. below!

Wednesday’s Galleries

 

Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums.

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Tuesday’s Photos from the 2017 RSM Classic

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GolfWRX is live this week from The 2017 RSM Classic at Sea Island Golf Club — the Seaside course plays as a par 70 measuring 7,005 yards — in St. Simons Island, Georgia.

Related

Headlined by last week’s OHL Classic champion Patton Kizzire, and 2015 RSM Champion Kevin Kisner, this week’s field is filled with notable names including Ricky Barnes, Zac Blair, Luke Donald, Ernie Els, Harris English, Tommy Gainey, Bill Haas, Beau Hossler, Zach Johnson, Smylie Kaufman, Matt Kuchar, Davis Love III, Graeme McDowell, Ollie Schniederjans, Brandt Snedeker, Hudson Swafford, Bubba Watson and others.

In last year’s RSM Classic, Mackenzie Hughes won in a five-man playoff to secure his first PGA Tour victory. He’s back in the field this year to defend his title.

Check out out photos from Sea Island G.C. below!

Tuesday’s Galleries

Special Galleries

 

Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums.

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